Category Archives: Exercises

Pullover and Press

The pullover and press is an exercise used back in the day before there were weight benches available. In order to do a floor press – old school version of the bench press – without a spotter, you had to pull the weight off the floor yourself.

Today this movement is performed on a weight bench.  The distance the bar travels in the pullover position, when on the floor, is far shorter than what can be achieved on a bench.

This is an exercise designed to allow you to lift a heavy weight and not intended to stretch the ribcage or lats. Far too many injuries occur from overstretching in this exercise with far too heavy a weight. If you are trying to expand your ribcage, dumbbell pullovers lying across a bench are designed for it. I prefer the floor version, as it is safer and you do not need a spotter to hand you the weight.

The pullover and press is a combination of two antagonistic exercises: the pullover phase is first because the traditional version requires you to lift it off the floor, followed by a close-grip bench press.

Start with the barbell overhead on the floor, with your elbows bent to alleviate stress and handle more weight. Your grip should be close and your elbows should point toward the ceiling.

Without changing the elbow angle, pull the barbell off the floor and to the chest in a circular manner. Your elbows will touch the floor preventing the bar from touching your chest if you are lying on the floor.

Once you have pulled the weight to your chest, you are basically in the start position of a floor press or a close-grip bench press.

Press the bar to lockout position, lower it again to the chest, and then reverse the circular manner in which you brought the bar to the chest and lower the barbell back down to the floor.

This exercise will build your lats, chest, shoulders, and triceps. However, it is best known as a triceps builder. The bent-arm pullover and the close-grip bench press both heavily involve the triceps but in opposite ways.

The pullover is a pulling exercise using the lats and rear delts while the press is a pushing exercise that uses antagonistic muscles – the chest and front delts. Alternating between a push and pull exercise allows the triceps to be worked in a unique way that no other exercise can do.

Full Range Floor Press

floor-press

As a novice lifter I believed that the bench press was ultimate test of upper body strength and believed that if I could have a big bench press the rest would follow. I was partially correct in my theory except it takes more than just the bench press to get big and lift monolithic weights.

This past year I bulked up in order to complete a bench press specialization routine and was successful. I did in fact bench press pound for pound the most I have ever lifted in my life and came close to qualifying for the nationals in the raw bench press. However, when it came time for me to compete I needed to lose some of this extra weight I had gained in order to get into the appropriate weight class.

I thought that as long as I continued working out and eating right that I could maintain the strength I gained while slowly losing the weight. My diet was also a success however; I noticed that as I continued to lose weight my strength in the bench press declined. This was a bizarre phenomenon to me at the time as I was still gaining strength in other closely related lifts such as the floor press, pin press, and bench press lockouts.

And then it finally occurred to me. I am stronger now than I was before I started losing weight and the only thing that changed was the increased distance I had to lower the bar to my chest. In fact, when I began to analyse the bench press further I noticed at the very bottom portion of the movement that I am horribly overextended in that my shoulders are being stretched to the max as my bar reaches my chest.

The floor press places a limit on the depth that can be reached which is ideally parallel to the floor. Many exercise technique specialists agree that this is the true full depth of the bench press and lowering the bar any further places unnecessary stress on the shoulder.

Being that the bench press is used to test strength many people refuse to believe that this shorter range motion recommended by exercise technique specialists is correct. Also, Powerlifters often where bench shirts that mask the stretch that occurs at the bottom portion of the bench press. This elastic shirt simply absorbs gravitational potential energy and stores it in the form of elastic potential energy in the shirt effectively reducing the load of the exercise as the bar descends into the bottom position.

Even bench pressers can attest to the amount of work required to train with a shirt and as a result many look to alternatives such as elastic bands and chains to mimic the effects of a shirt. Often times when these lifters train unequipped they will choose conjugate exercises such as the floor press and the pin press to avoid placing too much stress on the shoulder.

The effect of bottom stretch of the bench press is further exaggerated in smaller lifters that don’t possess the gigantic 70” barrel chest some of the heavyweight lifters possess. As an amateur lightweight bodybuilder this effect has fully realized itself. I have partially dislocated both shoulders this past year practicing competition style press pressing where the bottom portion of the movement is exaggerated with a paused.

The first injury occurred with my right shoulder as I was performing rack bench presses with the pins set just below chest height. I literally heard a pop in the shoulder but continued to workout. I eventually ended up dropping the barbell attempting to do a regular push press and that is when I realized something was wrong. I lost all power in my right shoulder and the next day is swollen to the point I couldn’t lay on that side for a month. The inflation was horrendous.

The second injury occurred during a set of incline dumbbell presses, in which I was pausing the weight on the bottom of each rep. Unfortunately I lost control of the dumbbell twisting my left arm backwards making two loud distinct popping noises.

As a result I decided to give up on the bench press and am switching to the floor press. The floor press is perfectly designed to stop your upper arms as they become parallel to the floor. The floor press is also a partial range of motion which will allow you to use heavier weights. It also can be used effectively as a conjugate to the bench press. If you were to add 100 lbs to your 1 rep max in the floor press it is a safe assumption that your bench press has increased by that much as well.

So if you are smaller built lifter like me or have had shoulder problems in the past you might want to consider giving this exercise a try. The floor press may not be a mainstream exercise outside of Powerlifting but it certainly predates it and has been an integral part of many strength programs for decades.

3 Need-to-Know Squat Variations

squats

If you want to get big you need to build a solid foundation to stand on. Among all exercises the squat is the highest ranked exercise for building size and strength in the legs. However, if you only use one squat variation in your training you obviously don’t know squat about leg training.

There are 3 squat variations that are need-to-know. They are the low bar back squat, high bar back squat, and front squat.

A difference in where the bar rests on the back of the shoulders of just a few inches is enough to biomechanically alter how the exercise is performed. As a result, the low bar and the high bar back squat are two distinct exercises.

In the high bar back squat the positioning of the bar is in such a way that the lifter is mechanically required to squat vertically placing emphasis on the quadriceps muscles as opposed to using the posterior chain in the low bar back squat.

The purpose of the high bar back squat is derived from the sport of Weightlifting where it is used to build the strength needed in the quads to lift heavy in the snatch and clean and jerk. This is different than Powerlifting where the squat is not only used to build a foundation of strength but also to test strength.

Positioning the bar lower on the back causes the lifter to naturally lean forward in the squat activating the posterior chain. The involvement of the posterior chain allows more weight to be lifted. The goal of Powerlifting is to lift the most weight humanly possible so all lifters essentially use the low bar back squat.

The weight difference between these two squat variations is hard to determine as few athletes take the time to master both techniques. However, on average a lifter should be able to low bar back squat 120% of their high bar back squat.

The advantages and disadvantages of these two exercises are based on application. A bodybuilder would benefit more from high bar back squats as it develops the lower quads more greatly.

Some bodybuilders claim that heavy squats make the waist large similar to how some Powerlifters develop a thick trunk lifting monolithic weight. Switching to high bar squats reduces the amount of weight lifted while placing more stress where bodybuilder’s need it to be – on the quads.

The front squat is another important variation that is more similar to the high bar back squat than it is to the low bar back squat. The front squat is used by Weightlifters for the same reason they use the high bar back squat. It develops power in the quads needed for Olympic lifts.

The front squat places more stress on the lower quads than the high bar back squat but reduces the amount of weight lifted by 80%. As a result, Weightlifters often incorporate heavy back squats into their training to build strength. The heavier you lift the stronger you get.

Understanding these three squat variations can also help prevent overlaps in training. For example, if you use low bar back squats for legs and conventional deadlift for back the same muscles get worked both times just in a different way. A better approach would be to use the front squat or high bar back squat on leg day if you need to train back around leg day.

Also, front squats and high bar back squats do not burnout your nervous system compared to as low bar back squats. You could potentially get away with training front squat more frequently for an extended period of time whereas with the low bar back squat you could expect to burnout much earlier.

If you don’t know squat about these three variations than do yourself a favour and invest time needed to learn them. Remember, if you want powerful, muscular legs than you need to know squat about quad training.

Heavy Shrugs Build More Than Traps

arnold-schwarzenegger-barbell-shrug

I laugh at articles about people accidentally overdeveloping their traps to the extent they look funny. If their traps are that big I am sure it didn’t happen by accident and some people like building big traps more than biceps.

However, I doubt that as a natty it is possible to overdevelop one particular muscle group. For most of us the excitement of seeing one body part become overdeveloped would bring hope that other muscles would soon follow.

I think shrugs get a bad rap. Part of the reason is people don’t go heavy enough. In order to do that you need to use straps or over-underhand grip.

Heavy shrugs are excellent way to not only build the traps but do far more than that. The effects of heavy shrugs are similar to a deadlift lockout. In fact, for each set you essentially perform a single deadlift lockout. Furthermore, if you are required to take a step back from the rack and another to return it you did a farmer’s walk with a really heavy weight.

Most powerlifters shrug more than their 1 rep max in the deadlift for 15-20 reps. Shrugging less than your max deadlift is not considered heavy. The weight you would use for the deadlift lockout is around the same weight you would use for the shrug. In fact, your shrug should not reach its limit until it is equal to your 1 rep max in the deadlift lockout.

Now if you have the guts to lift this heavy then the benefits of the shrug go far beyond building big traps. Heavy short range movements like this don’t burn out your central nervous system compared to exercises such as deadlifts. Plus, the traps can be trained heavy on a regular basis as the muscle fibre type is similar to the calves.

Having big traps will also be an advantage in other exercise involving this muscle such as the power clean, shoulder press, lateral raises, etc. If you gain 100 lbs in your shrug then you should be able to use more weight in other exercises involving the traps – forcing other muscles to indirectly grow.

Another reason shrugs will build more than just the traps is similar to what happens with other heavy movements such as the deadlift. The deadlift is used primarily to target the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings but secondary stress is placed on the quads, abs, lats, traps, delts, biceps, forearm flexors, and etc.

If you are performing a cheating shrug the muscles involved can be endless depending on your technique. Secondary muscles involved are muscles of the upper back, delts, biceps, forearm flexors and if you cheat this could also include the quads, hamstrings, lower back, calves, and abs.

By performing heavy shrugs you can make noticeable gains in a short period of time and then switch focus to a different part of the back. Some people claim you can even overdevelop the traps by accident. Put this myth to the test. If it happens you might end up with monster traps but you will have developed many other parts of your body in doing so.